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The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family Paperback – June 8, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Katz, a novelist and nonfiction author (A Dog Year; Geeks), here explores the bond between dogs and their owners. Focusing on 12 people-dog relationships in Montclair, N.J., and drawing on current research into attachment theory, interviews with animal workers and psychiatrists, as well as conversations with dog owners, Katz offers nuanced portraits of what happens when humans depend on dogs to satisfy their emotional needs. He contends that high divorce rates, an unstable workplace and the shrinking extended family are some of the reasons that people have come to rely on pets instead of one another during times of crisis. Donna, a divorced woman with terminal cancer, turns to her Welsh corgi for comfort and as an antidote to loneliness. In a darker portrait, Katz tells the story of Jamal, a troubled 14-year old and the owner of a pit bull whom he clearly loves, and yet beats daily. Katz also describes the laudable work of Betty Jean, who devotes her life to rescuing dogs from shelters-but who gives little attention to her grown children or grandchildren. Although Katz, a dog owner himself, appreciates the strong tie between humans and dogs, he fears that many owners use their pets as support during hard times, only to discard them later: Kate's German shepherd, for example, helped her recover from her husband's death, but she gave the dog away when she remarried. In this well-written and thoughtful account, Katz makes a convincing case that dog owners must be more self-aware and responsible when they use their pets as human substitutes.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Deserves a blue ribbon . . . [Katz] does a terrific job of examining how dogs are handling their ‘new work’: serving as many a family’s nurturer in chief.”

“[Katz] writes with sensitivity about human relationships with animals.”

“Engagingly bittersweet . . . Katz’s central thesis, that dogs have moved way beyond their past work, is certainly true.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Humorous, compelling, and heartrending, this is a breakthrough book from one of our most talented and perceptive canine chroniclers.”
AKC Gazette

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375760555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375760556
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bedlam Farm in upstate New York is where I live, write and tend my animals - four dogs, two donkeys, two barn cats. The rambling old farmhouse was built in 1862; it's surrounded by pastures, streams and wooded hillsides, plus four barns and a milkhouse in various stages of disrepair.

I write books- memoirs, novels, short story collections, and beginning in 2011, children's books. I am also a photographer.

In my former life, before I grew preoccupied with sheepherding and moving manure around. I wanted to change my life and write more about the experience of living with and understanding animals.
I write novels and nonfiction books (I've written 20 books), along with columns and articles for Rolling Stone, Wired, the New York Times, and the website HotWired.
Coming to the farm turned out to be a Joseph Campbell style "Hero's Journey." I went off into some dark places, got divorced, struggled to face myself, and found someone to share my life.

My wife Maria Wulf is an artist, who specializes in fiber art. She works in the Studio Barn across the road from the farmhouse. Earlier this year, I thought briefly of selling Bedlam Farm. After getting married, we decided to stay here. My daughter Emma, a sportswriter living in Brooklyn, has written her own book about New York baseball. I publish a blog I love dearly - My photos appear there daily. My dogs are Izzy, Lenore, Frieda and Rose, the working dog who helps me run the farm.

My writing life began with a novel - "Sign Off" - an unwittingly prescient story about the jarring changes in work and security.

This year - 2010 - I am returning to fiction. I've written a novel, "Rose In A Storm," about a border collie stranded on a farm in upstate New York during a terrible storm. I wrote this book in conjunction with some animal behaviorists who helped me enter the mind of a dog, and hopefully, be faithful to that. My first children's book "Meet The Dogs Of Bedlam Farm," will be published by Henry Holt next year. I have just finished a short story collection to be published next year by Villard/Random House.
In recent years, photography has become central to me as well as writing. I have been fortunate enough to have several gallery showings of my work, and also sell my photos as notecards through the Redux Gallery in Dorset, Vt.

I am also working on a book about animal grieving. Hopefully, it will be useful.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Dog lovers who enjoyed A DOG YEAR and RUNNING TO THE MOUNTAIN are forewarned. THE NEW WORK OF DOGS is not a walk in the park, though author Jon Katz indulges readers with a few anecdotal romps. This is a call to arms. Pet people around the world will reluctantly learn about the underbelly of the dog world, the realities that lurk outside the realm of most fenced yards, and bedrooms where dogs and cats lounge like royalty. And it's a hard pill to swallow, though Katz, through his wonderful writing, softens the blow.
From the cocoon of his home in Montclair, New Jersey, a wealthy suburb where many dogs and kids are pampered, Katz takes readers on a sad yet real journey into a world where dogs are thrown from cars, battered by their owners, and discarded like trash. This is the story of what happens to them if saints of the dog world, people who form organizations like Save the Pets, find them. And it is the story of what Katz calls "the new work" of dogs --- to fill the emotional voids created by a culture in which television has replaced community, where work dominates schedules and friendships fill in the gaps.
THE NEW WORK OF DOGS is a good read by an excellent author about a topic that will break the heart of any animal lover. With statistics that startle any compassionate person, let alone a dog person, the book delves into the realities of the world we have created --- a world where most dog owners call themselves mommy and daddy and spent $29 billion on their pets in 2001; the same world where between 8 and 10 million dogs enter the U.S. shelter system and close to 5 million are killed "because there are no homes for them," says Katz.
A true journalist, Katz follows a few dog owners to discover their motivation for owning dogs.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Hamilton on September 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Not many dogs pull sleds these days, and only a few fight crime. But that doesn't mean dogs aren't working. Not according to Jon Katz, whose latest book, The New Work of Dogs, explores the less documented duties canines have assumed within family life.

Katz's previous book, A Dog Year, was a popular personal account of the 12 months he spent with two crazy border collies and a pair of laid-back labs, animals that had a transformative effect on his life. Now, with his new book he takes a look at other people's pets, compiling the stories of men and women who have hit a wall in their lives and found comfort in the family canine.

According to Katz, the new work of the American dog is to be companion, counselor, nurse, even surrogate child. One of his subjects, Sandra Robinson, is divorced, miserable and thwarted in her dreams of having children. She fills the void with a new puppy, Ellie. Rob Cochran feels walled in by the demands of his family and his high-paying job. Through his dog, Cherokee, Cochran vicariously experiences the simple, uninhibited life that eludes him personally.

These are lofty roles for our furry friends, but, as Katz shows, they're up to the task. His list of working dogs is as varied as his register of the people who need them. One chapter tells of the Divorced Dogs Club, a group of divorced women who get together and embellish their list of ways that dogs are better than men.

Perhaps the most moving story he tells is of Donna Dwight, a cheerful, dynamic woman dying of cancer whose Welsh Corgi, Harry, accompanies her almost to the gates of death, providing love and companionship all the way. His true work is to save her from feeling alone in the most dreadful hours of her life.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Katz's insightful thesis is that as our society grows more fragmented and irresonsible many of us will suffer intense isolation, compelling us to look to dogs for substitute sources of friendship and family. As a result, a tragic paradox has inflicted the canine world: On one hand, dogs are now regarded with higher esteem but on the other hand our unrealistic expectations result in disappointment and frustration, resulting in the neglect, abuse, and anger against dogs, many of which are abandoned. Katz isn't saying we shouldn't lavish love on dogs. Rather, he is saying we should be aware of the kind of emotional needs we're requiring our dogs to make and to perhaps not fall into the trap of overdoing our dog obsession. To make his point, he provides about a dozen in-depth profiles of dog owners, many lonely and alienated from society and shows the pressures their loneliness puts on their dogs.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By C. Ward on April 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed reading this book about the new work of dogs. Jon Katz writes what I always see in the lives of people with dogs, but can't exactly put into words. He does a great job of that by writing about the lives of people with dogs and how their dogs serve them. Yes, there are actual working dogs in the world working on farms and such. But the work he writes about in this book is more emotional, even spiritual. It is about how we see our dogs, what we expect of them, and in turn how we treat them. Some people in the book relied on their dogs for emotional support, companionship, unconditional love. Others only needed them for a season of their lives, then discarded them, or didn't see their dogs as in need just as we are for just being dogs and having human companionship. I see people like this everywhere. Jon Katz does a fantastic job of writing about real-life examples of this new work. Some stories are heartbreaking, while others make you smile. It's a great book.
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